Geek-turned-Teacher Year 2: The Classroom From Hell
The Classroom From Hell
I’d heard the story many times: the principal hands you the keys to an empty classroom, wishes you good luck, and then disappears. Sink or swim. It wasn’t going to happen to me. I’m no fresh-out-of-college twentysomething who had a cushy three-month internship teaching angels. I was a Computer Science graduate, mid-thirties, married, and had twelve years experience in the business world. Corporate takeovers, layoffs, bigoted bosses, company politics were all notches in my belt. Plus, I’d spend an entire school year interning at a Title I school with some pretty tough kids. I could handle a classroom of 8- and 9-year-olds.
First up was the classroom itself. It was a train wreck. Three teachers had come and gone in one school year and had left remnants of their hasty exits everywhere. I should have known then. So I set about sorting through the mess as best I could. I made cute bulletin boards, arranged textbooks and desks, the usual new teacher stuff. I remember going in to school each day that summer and passing by another teacher’s classroom on the way to my own. Every day I would peek in her door and marvel at what her classroom looked like. One day, I got up the nerve to knock and introduce myself. She was wonderfully nice and had been at the school for a number of years. As I gawked at how perfectly decorated her classroom looked, she complained that she still had much work to do and the room wasn’t ready. And this was in June. I felt about 3 inches tall.
At last the first day of school arrived. Somehow I had managed to make my room look presentable. The colors and decorations look sharp, students’ names were on their desks on on the board, book were neatly arranged for each of them. I taught a special education class with students in the 1st and 2nd grade. I had 10 students and a full-time teacher assistant. This should be no problem…
Then the children arrived…
Those first two weeks were a blurry nightmare. The girls cried and had bathroom accidents at least once a day. The boys enjoyed stabbing each other with sharpened pencils, screaming profanity, and diving headfirst from their desks. I was in utter hell. My teacher assistant tried to help as best she could but it was more than she could handle too. My carefully crafted lesson plans were forgotten as I struggled to keep the kids from killing each other. Eating and sleeping were unknown concepts to me, as I tried to figure out how to survive this daily horror. My wife did her best to support me, even getting me a shiny new color iPod to try to cheer me up. Every time I would turn to the teacher next door for help, I would have to walk away because I would break down with frustration. Yes, these children made a grown man cry.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the principal’s office and prepared to leave the teaching profession. As I sat down, the principal looked at my face and said, “It’s too much for you, isn’t it?” I didn’t even have to say anything because it was so obvious I was in far over my head. I couldn’t believe this was ending. I had invested almost two years of my life to get to this point and it would be over after two weeks. But luck was on my side. Incredibly, the resource special education teacher, who serviced students in other classrooms throughout the school, wanted to have her own classroom. The principal proposed this teacher observe my class and, if she wanted to, we would switch places. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I quickly set things up and it worked out.
I felt like I had been released from prison.